Monday, May 4, 2009

Police, patriotism, and the public...and also journalism

One bright, warm and sunny afternoon I was walking over to my service learning site, Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), and I thought to myself, “hmmm…something looks very strange here.” I stopped, looked around and saw six police cars, one paddy wagon and even more “boys in blue” just hanging around all calm and collected outside of Walker Church where CUAPB and the supporters of the RNC 8 were congregated. Apparently, right before I got to the church the vice-president of CUAPB, Darryl had been arrested for disorderly conduct – his actions – standing in front of the church, merely surveying the police presence meant to intimidate and scare supporters, protestors and community members. Naomi Wolf, argues in her book (2007), The End of America: Letter of Warning to a young patriot, that the “experience of accountable detention and release is eroding in America. Activists are not being beaten. But they are being watched and sometimes intimidatingly detained and released (Wolf, pg. 95).”

The police presence at CUAPB that day (which was several hours on a Saturday afternoon when there probably were lots of other places they could and should be), did not go unnoticed by people coming and going from the church. Some members were quite anxious as they have had personal experiences with police brutality, while others were upset and angry, muttering “look at these police terrorists,” under their breath as they smoked. Wolf explains that “if you are an activist...your e-mail may be monitored and your phone calls tracked (Wolf, pg. 81).” This makes me a bit apprehensive about my personal activism efforts – I have joked about being watched by “big brother,” but I’m not doing anything violent or harmful to anyone, so why would the government waste its time on a lowly college student like me? All this surveillance seems to be unnecessary and quite scary considering that Wolf says: “If your communications reach a certain level of interest to the government, a human being may be tasked to read and listen in on what you are saying, and you won’t know about it. The White House surveillance program is triggered by certain key words and names (Wolf, pg.81).”

Yikes. I can totally see this off-the-charts excuse for protecting our freedom and homeland as starting out kind of innocent and acceptable – except, I’m sure it wasn’t at all innocent and totally acceptable to those in power who deemed it necessary. In my social justice senior seminar we have discussed this book and the “Ten Steps,” Wolf says forming a growing crisis we face as Americans who are slowly losing our rights and freedoms. I know this sounds a bit paranoid and maybe even a little off-the-cliff-liberal reasoning, but I’m willing to entertain the idea that the government doesn’t always have my best interest’s at heart – sure it’s a little different now that President Barack Hussein Obama is in the White House – but there is still a lot of mending and healing that needs to be done to our civil liberties and rights.

Wolf discusses her ninth step: “Restrict the Press,” via recounting staged photo ops, the history of censorship of the press, and the violence that the men and women of the press face continually at home and abroad, I found myself thinking about bias, and what that words means to someone like me – a journalism student graduating in less than three weeks who has somewhat of a history online and in print documenting her activism efforts and “bias.” What does that mean for my future career if I am surveyed and continually analyzed because of my political and social beliefs? Do I even want to be objective if one side of the story is all we as Americans ever hear? If it at all realistic to expect objectivity from humans who have opinions and beliefs? I heard recently that many popular journalists don’t even vote, or are encouraged strongly by their media companies to not participate in the voting process so that they present their lives as objectivity as possible.

It’s shocking that the one freedom men and women of color, and women of all colors have died for – the freedom to vote – some journalists aren’t using because they want to seem objective? Apparently, I have a lot to think about in terms of what I am doing, where I will be doing it, and who I will be doing whatever it is that I choose to do with. Clearly, my belief system and my passion for social justice will be requiring me to move ever so decidedly outside of the field of objective journalism into something more advocacy related. What exactly? Not sure quite yet, but I’m sure “big brother” will know when I do.

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